7 Things You Should Experience in Chinese Parks

Visiting the city parks in China; it’s probably not the first thing on your itinerary. In fact, if you are traveling to China for the first time, a stroll through the park might not be on your itinerary at all. With big name tourist sites like The Great Wall and The Bund, I never even thought about looking for Chinese culture elsewhere. The mistake I made, and that many tourists make is in thinking that the real China lies within its world famous attractions. If you are traveling to China with the intention to understand the people and daily way of life, here are seven things that you should experience within the country’s parks.

Tai Chi

You’ve probably heard of this form of martial arts before. It’s practiced mostly because of its health benefits which include longevity, balance and meditation affects. I took a Tai Chi class once before at a local gym but didn’t think much of the slow movements. It wasn’t until I wandered into a park in China that I saw how widely it was practiced. The earlier you visit the park, the better as large groups of elderly locals will surely be doing Tai Chi in a synchronized formation. Sometimes there is someone leading the practice, but other times it just seems like everyone is in tune with one another. Join in to get a bit of a workout and reap the benefits yourself.

Photo Source: Travel The World

Photo Source: Travel The World

Life Sized Calligraphy

This beautiful art form of handwriting goes way back in Chinese history. While it is traditionally done with ink and paper, the locals have taken the practice into nature. Walking around a park, you may stumble across people with giant calligraphy brushes and buckets of water. They will usually be dipping the brush into the water and drawing characters right into the pavement. The watermarks don’t usually last too long so make sure to check them out while they are there.

Erhu Players

You would probably recognize the sound if you heard it but just saying the word Erhu may not ring a bell. This bowed instrument features two strings and looks like a mix between a harp and a violin. The sound that it makes is gorgeous, and its melodies can easily be recognized within hundreds of classic, Chinese songs. I’ve seen countless people playing their hearts out for the public in nearly every park I have been to in China. If you stumble across an Erhu player, stick around and give a good listen.

Photo Source: Getty Images

Photo Source: Getty Images

Fan & Sword Dances

There is a whole lot of group exercise and dance going on in Chinese parks, and this one may be the most interesting. You may find yourself staring at a whole group of women, colorful fans in hand as they complete slow movements in perfect sync. The fan dances almost always coincide with music, and the whole thing looks much more like a performance than an after-work hobby. The same goes for the sword dances although they look a bit more intimidating when you are strolling around the park alone for the evening.

Locals Trying to Learn English

Particularly in the more popular parks, many locals will gather, looking for foreigners. There are often college students and other young people who are seeking to meet up with foreigners to practice their English. Sometimes they will approach you alone and other times in groups while working on school projects. Most of them just want the chance to sit and chat while others may have specific questions prepared. Don’t feel obligated to participate if you feel uncomfortable but recognize that it’s a great chance to help someone out while getting to speak with local people about their lives.

Photo Source: VHHS Cougars

Photo Source: VHHS Cougars

Dance Lessons

Amongst all of the other kinds of dancing, there are often large scale lessons going on in the parks. I’ve seen everything from line dancing to ballroom dancing going on and the people involved are of all ages. Sometimes I just couldn’t resist joining in and dragging my friends along with me. The dance students were quite impressed with my ballroom dancing skills, and I felt like I had accomplished something upon leaving the park that evening.

Photo Source: Boston.com

Photo Source: Boston.com

Mahjong

This famous Chinese game looks slightly similar to checkers, involves colored tiles and requires 2-4 players. It originated in China during the Qing Dynasty and is an extremely popular activity amongst park dwellers. At any given time, you will probably see groups of people intently playing the game in the parks and even larger groups of spectators eager to see who will win. Even if you don’t know how to play, it’s worth sneaking over and seeing if you can get in on a game.

Photo Source: Shutter Stock

Photo Source: Shutter Stock

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Shannon Ullman

Hey! I'm a published American travel blogger and teacher. My travel writing has been featured on Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Matador Network and Thought Catalog. I spent over a year living and traveling around China while I taught English there. I have also visited dozens of other countries around the world.